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Dudley files for Oak Harbor mayor, escorted by off-duty cops
An eager Scott Dudley became one of the first candidates to file for public office Monday and among his entourage of supporters were four Oak Harbor police officers.
Lt. Tim Sterkel, Detective Sgt. Teri Gardner, Detective Carl Seim, and Officer Mel Lolmaugh attended Dudley’s filing to officially demonstrate their endorsement of his bid for mayor.
It was also a clear statement of their feelings toward incumbent Jim Slowik, though Sterkel made it clear that they were acting on their own accord. They were off duty and were not acting as representatives of the department’s union, he said.
Reading from prepared notes, Sterkel said the officers are casting their support behind Dudley for several reasons, ranging from the 2010 dispute over the open public meeting laws and the city’s standing committee rule changes to an incident involving one of Slowik’s 2007 campaign signs and a SE Pioneer Way merchant earlier this year.
“I think that was the lowest thing he could have done,” Sterkel said of the sign incident.
In February, Slowik marched into a downtown store and took one of his campaign signs from the front window. The merchant, Les Bense, had drawn a line through Slowik’s name and written the words “vote him out” in protest against the SE Pioneer Way Improvement Project.
Sterkel also said he believes Slowik has “targeted” city employees for termination, citing the cases of former Prosecuting Attorney AnhKiet Ngo and former Harbormaster Mack Funk. Ngo was fired and Funk resigned amid separate controversies.
Detective Sgt. Teri Gardner claims she was in a room with Slowik when he reportedly said that it “took two years to get rid of Ngo.” According to Sterkel, both employees were treated unfairly and any problems surrounding their individual cases should have been handled with “progressive discipline.”
Slowik adamantly denies having said that it “took two years to get rid of Ngo.” He also said that he didn’t take direct action against either employee as both Ngo and Funk were answerable to their own supervisors.
“I didn’t fire either one of those people,” he said, adding that he doesn’t instruct department heads to take action against their staff.
As for the 2010 dispute over open public meetings laws and the city’s standing committee rules, Slowik has said on several occasions that the issue shouldn’t be a black eye for either himself or the city.
There was a gray area in the law and it was settled by the state attorney general, Slowik argued. From the start, he promised to abide by the attorney general’s decision, and when the opinion came out, the necessary changes were made to the city’s code.
The mayor claimed that 24 other cities have standing committees that operate as they did but that he believes Oak Harbor is the only one to have changed its rules to comply with the attorney general’s opinion.
“We didn’t get any credit for that,” he said.
Concerning the old campaign sign, Slowik said he didn’t do anything wrong because the sign belonged to him. He’d let Bense hang it in the shop window for years but finally decided to reclaim his long-lost property.
He also pointed out that Oak Harbor Police Chief Rick Wallace was quoted in a previous news story saying that Bense was likely the only one to commit a crime, as defacing campaign signs is against state law.
Slowik also addressed the four officers, saying that they are great cops and he “couldn’t respect anyone more.” He said they have the right to free speech and that it’s only natural that support among the city’s approximately 130 employees will be divided between himself and Dudley.
However, he said he couldn’t help but wonder if Sterkel’s criticisms were not borne out of some other personal grudge, such as the mayor’s decision to recommend Lt. John Dyer for the FBI’s Academy for Law Enforcement, which he recently completed.
“I don’t know if Tim sees that as a threat to his career, or if it’s something else,” Slowik said.
In any case, he said the police department shouldn’t become a tool used for political leverage or advancement in any electoral race. The focus should be on real issues, such as the ones facing the city tomorrow.
“This campaign isn’t going to be about yesterday, it’s going to be about the future,” Slowik said.
Dudley, in a statement to his supporters in the parking lot following his filing, didn’t make any commitment to refrain from bringing up the past, but did say that he was running without a personal agenda and was looking forward to a clean campaign.
And while Dudley appeared to have the law on his side, he was likely the first candidate of the day to break state law. Lined against the front window of the election’s office were five brand new Dudley campaign signs.
“Within 100 yards of the elections office, signs are prohibited,” Island County Auditor Sheilah Crider said.
Campaign laws are pretty clear but they can be extensive and it’s not uncommon for candidates new to the political arena to be caught unaware, Crider said. That appeared to be the case with Dudley, she said, as he claimed ignorance and removed the signs immediately when he was asked.